The highest-ranking U.S. military officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War was buried with full honors Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony attended by his family and platoons of fellow warriors.
Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene was killed Aug. 5 when a gunman believed to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military academy near Kabul.
During the service, Greene’s adult son tightly clasped the hands of his mother and sister as soldiers folded the flag that had draped his father’s casket. While the U.S. Army Band played “America the Beautiful,” Army First Lt. Matthew Greene handed a tissue to his mother, who dabbed at her eyes.
Greene was born in Boston and was in sixth grade when his family moved from Nashua, New Hampshire, to Guilderland. He was a graduate of Guilderland High School and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The 55-year-old two-star general went to Afghanistan in January. It was his first deployment to a war zone.
His burial included several ceremonial touches in deference to his rank. A riderless horse accompanied the caisson that carried Greene’s casket to his gravesite. The hundreds of people who gathered on a mild, breezy afternoon at Arlington were startled by a 13-cannon salute and again, later, by three rifle volleys.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presented the flag that had covered Greene’s casket to his widow, Susan Myers, a retired Army colonel. He then handed three more flags that had touched the casket to Greene’s son; his daughter, Amelia; and his father, also named Harold.
Following the ceremony, Myers placed a rose on Greene’s casket and patted it as her son touched her back. Matthew, wearing his dress uniform, knelt by the casket, and then Amelia bent over and kissed it, supported by her brother.
The burial was preceded by a chapel service that was closed to reporters. Lt. Col. Juanita Chang, an Army public affairs officer, said the 650-seat chapel at Arlington was filled beyond capacity. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attended and met with the family. Dozens of officers also attended, and some could not find seats, Chang said.
Matthew Greene had the crowd laughing as he told stories about his father, Chang said, and Amelia Greene spoke about her father’s love of New England sports. She was inspired by his optimism about the Boston Red Sox, who went the first 45 years of his life without winning the World Series. The Red Sox have since won three titles, and the family will attend a game at Fenway Park on Saturday and be honored after the 5th inning, Chang said.
Greene, known as Harry, spent most of 34-year Army career developing, building and supplying soldiers with equipment and technology.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1980 after graduating from RPI.